Science Fiction Monthly v01n10, October 1974

ISFDB link

Editor, Patricia Hornsey; Assistant Editor, Julie Davis

Song of the Dead Gulls • short story by Chris Penn ♥
Sitting on a Starwood Stool • short story by Ian Watson ♥♥♥
The Fall of Atlantis • short story by E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith ♥

Earthworks • cover by Bruce Pennington
Interior artwork • by Bruce Pennington, John Bolton, Mike Little, Robert McAulay, Cheryl Drower, Bob Fowke, and J. Allen St John
Modern Masters of Science Fiction: 4: EE ‘Doc’ Smith • essay by Walter Gillings
The Winning Paintings
News • by Aune R. Butt
The Query Box • essay by Walter Gillings [as by Thomas Sheridan]
The Artist in Science Fiction: Bob Fowke • essay by Julie Davis
Edgar Rice Burroughs • essay by Frank Westwood

I picked up this issue as it had an article on Doc Smith, Modern Masters of Science Fiction: 4: EE ‘Doc’ Smith by Walter Gillings,  which I thought might be useful to read given that I’ve just finished Smith’s Galactic Patrol (in the September 1937 to February 1938 issues of Astounding). It’s a short but useful introduction to the author.
There are a couple of other articles in this issue. The Feminine Feature by Mike Ashley is another useful introduction, this time to women in SF, and covers the period from Mary Shelly to the mid-70s. It quotes a London bookseller saying that only 1% of his clientele is female, which seems very low even for the time. Equally brief is Edgar Rice Burroughs by Frank Westwood, which is almost entirely an account of the writer’s life (which included long periods of poverty) and doesn’t go into his fiction in any detail at all.
These three articles very much give the impression the magazine thinks (probably correctly) that its audience are complete newcomers to the SF field.
There are the usual columns. News is almost completely devoid of any, more a listing of fanzines, conventions, and synopses of newly released books that sound like a right load of old rubbish:

Heart Clock by Dick Morland. Published by New English Library Ltd, 40p. The economy of Britain was in a precarious state. Doom threatened large on the horizon, until Matthew Matlock solved the problem so simply. Economic stability, he said, was directly related to population growth. Regulate the latter and the former will reappear naturally. And he had his own original ideas on regulation methods too. Now, forty years later, he no longer upholds this system. His fight is to undo all the work he accomplished so many years ago. A startling new work of imaginative fiction is a Sunday Times fiction choice of the year. p. 17

The Disappearance by Philip Wylie. Published by Panther Books, 50p. ‘The world’s most startling novel’ (Daily Express), set in a world where suddenly ail the women disappear from the men’s point of view, and all the men disappear from the women’s. In these two parallel, monosexual worlds different sorts of adjustments have to be made to meet the problems that occur. p. 17

There are also, from this more innocent time, items like this:

Neil S**** of B*** House, Old H*****, Near Kendal, Westmorland, L** O** has written to us asking for a mention on this page for a junior science fiction club he is interested in starting. Strictly for 10-14 year olds, this club will be formed by Neil and his friends. Anyone who is interested in joining please write to him at the address given above. p. 17

Nowadays, knowing what we do about the seventies and eighties, it would not surprise me to find out that Neil S. was a 49-year old paedophile. Yes, I am joking.

Both the Letters and The Query Box columns are dull, although the latter does have this:

May I appeal for help in finding a picture that appeared in the late 1940s? The drawing showed a canal on Mars with a British waterways style of barge on it: but the bargee and the horse pulling the barge were noticeably alien, both having their eyes on the ends of stalks.
John C Rudge, Harlington, Middlesex

I take it you’re seeing a magazine cover rather than an interior illustration, which at least narrows the search. Even so, in the two years 1947-8, for instance, a dozen magazines published over 120 issues—and I don’t have all of them. Can anyone with a photographic memory, if not a complete collection, help? p. 20

I wouldn’t mind seeing that myself.
The Artist in Science Fiction: Bob Fowke by Julie Davis covers an artist whose work I don’t particularly care for but, having said that, I thought that his cover for the Corgi edition of Earth Abides by George Stewart was well done.
After a striking cover by Bruce Pennington, Earthworks, there are relatively few artwork posters inside the magazine this time around. The reason for this is that three pages are given over to The Winning Paintings (the successful entries in the recent painting competition, none of which I rate except the McKie and Marlin),1 four pages to illustrate stories and articles, and one page is a plug for next issue’s double page 1975 calendar pull-out.
What poster artwork there is in this issue includes a double page spread by Bruce Pennington, a ghastly (and unattributed) picture of a plastic heart attached by wires to a clock, and a full page piece for the Brian Froud article. The B&W artwork for Penn’s story, by John Bolton, is quite good.2

As for the fiction, there are three short stories. Song of the Dead Gulls by Chris Penn starts off with a spaceship crashing on an alien planet, and uses more adjectives in this opening section than most writers do in an entire story:

He lurched as the ship keeled over onto its bubble, air-grit and darting sparks building a cyclone in the tumbling cabin. Blood squished in spasms from his amputation, a paint-sprayer coating the mosaic of segmented canopy with a gaudy, lisping film. The aquiline, bronze ochre hulk of the skitter shuddered in epilepsy as its sensitive nose burned a cinderous cave in the shore. It rolled like a shot brontosaurus, the anti-grav playing kaleidoscopic patterns with the salt-spray and the emergency jets gorging blue-white shimmers of thrust at broken angles. The ground wound in toward him on the final pivot, then the impact in a crush of antennae and xenobiological samplers, throwing him forward through the cantilevered arch of framework and console, out onto the bare, wet beach, rolling uncontrollably in a queer, eccentric manner—fast over the stub of his right arm, slowing as his body took the friction, then fast again, the sand forming a swab over the coagulating blood and tendons flapping like ribbons down to an imaginary hand. p. 2

After exiting the wreckage he makes it to a nearby lifeboat just before the ship’s reactor goes critical and blows up. He attends to his injuries as best he can, and then moves the lifeboat to get away from the worst of the radiation. In the process he stumbles across a nearby village that has been destroyed by the explosion.
He next sees a naked young woman and pursues her. When he catches up he tries to encourage her inside the lifeboat, and away from the radiation, but she escapes. The next day he finds her suffering from the fallout (she has a head-sized tumour on her shoulder—there is no explanation as to how this has grown so quickly—amongst other physical deprivations). He contacts a representative of his church to get permission to kill her and end her suffering, but this is refused. He (spoiler) does so anyway and when the rescue mission finally arrives they find his body near hers.
The over-written nature of this is probably fairly typical of a new writer3 but I’d wager that the nihilistic ending was a hangover from the New Worlds’ New Wave.
The beginning of Sitting on a Starwood Stool by Ian Watson establishes that Starwood is a superconducting material that is only found on one particular planet, one with a highly eccentric orbit. It is prohibitively expensive, but highly sought after from the enigmatic aliens who sell it:

But the remarkable thing about Starwood is this. If you sit on it, it radiates its energies into you. And it rejuvenates any human being. A properly cut and tailored piece of Starwood recharges the mitochondria (the powerhouses) in the cells. It tones up the brain waves. It balances the Yin and Yang. A chess-player squatting on Starwood is unbeatable. A philosopher can work out the universal truths in his head. A businessman can build empires. It’s the ultimate conditioner. Hair grows back—even brain cells regenerate. The impotent recover their virility. The immune system can eat up any cancer, however metastised. p. 6

The narrator is suffering from terminal cancer and arranges an audience with the Grand Monk of the Yakuza, in order to steal his Starwood stool…. Matters do not proceed as he expects.
There isn’t much complication to this one but the ending has a visceral, SF horror ending that improves on what has gone before.
Oh yes: it is no fault of the artist, but whoever did the page design on this one needs to reflect on the fact that black type on a brown background is really quite difficult to read.
The last piece of fiction, The Fall of Atlantis by E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith, is not really a story but a self-contained extract from Smith’s ‘Lensman’ novel Triplanetary (Chapter 3, it seems). It starts with the leaders of Atlantis discussing a nuclear threat from two neighbouring countries. The story then cuts to a spy who has been sent to one of the countries, Uighar, where he meets up with a female agent who is an old childhood friend. She tells him that the Uigharians are going to fire a nuclear missile and the only way the pair can stop it is to fly down the tube as it is launched!
This is a plodding piece with wooden characters and fairly awful dialogue. You could say the same about Galactic Patrol, but that has something that this doesn’t. However, Smith manages to wrap up the clichéd plot well enough (spoiler: the nuke is launched at Atlantis but falls short, sending a destructive tidal wave to city as well as triggering a geological fault).

Apart from the Ian Watson story, a very weak issue.

  1. The winners of the artwork competition:There is larger (3Mb) version of the image here.
  2. John Bolton’s internal artwork for Chris Penn’s story:
  3. ISFDB only lists this one story by Chris Penn.

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